Exploration and Settlement

Christopher Columbus

Why did Spain authorize Columbus’s expedition in search of a westward route to the Indies?

When Christopher Columbus (born Cristoforo Colombo; 1451–1506), who was Italian, became convinced that Earth was round (he had been studying the writings of Ptolemy) and that he could, therefore, reach the East by traveling due west across the ocean, he first took the idea to the king of Portugal to seek his financial aid. This was about 1483. The move was a natural one: He had settled in Portugal at the age of 25, married a Portuguese woman (who bore him one son before she died), and Portugal was the leading seafaring nation of Europe at that time, carrying out southbound voyages with the intent of rounding Africa and reaching the Indies to the east. But Columbus was rebuffed by the Portuguese monarch. When in 1484 he took his plan to the Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand (1452–1516) and Queen Isabella (1451–1504), they too refused to back him. But Columbus persisted, and in 1492 the Spanish king and queen agreed to sponsor the explorer’s plan. There were two reasons for the decision: The overland trade route to the Indies (India and its adjacent lands and islands in the Far East) had long been cut off by the Turks, and the western Europeans found themselves in need of finding a new trade route to the Far East. Further, Ferdinand and Isabella were devout Christians, as was Columbus, and they all shared a desire to advance the Christian religion. In short, the monarchs saw that there were both material and religious advantages for backing Columbus’s expedition.


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